Lloyd Austin
Lloyd AustinREUTERS/Pascal Rossignol/File Photo

The saga surrounding the hospitalization of US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin continues: CNN reported on Sunday that, when the deputy secretary of defense began assuming some of Austin’s responsibilities on January 2, not even she knew that it was because Austin was hospitalized.

Two defense officials told CNN that Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks, the Pentagon’s No. 2 leader, was among the senior leaders kept in the dark about Austin’s true whereabouts until Thursday, three days after the secretary checked into Walter Reed National Military Medical Center following complications from an elective surgery.

Austin was hospitalized following an elective medical procedure he had on December 22, while he was on leave, Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder, the Pentagon press secretary, said. He returned home the following day, but on the evening of January 1 he “began experiencing severe pain” and was transported to Walter Reed via ambulance.

“He was placed in the hospital’s intensive care unit to ensure immediate access to due to his medical needs, but then remained in that location in part due to hospital space considerations and privacy,” Ryder said.

The chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Gen. C.Q. Brown, was notified January 2 that Austin had been hospitalized the day before, Ryder told CNN. The military service secretaries, who are in the chain of command, were not notified until January 5, four days after Austin checked into the hospital, according to the report.

Ryder said that Austin’s chief of staff, Kelly Magsamen, was “unable to make notifications before then” due to illness.

“She made those notifications on Thursday to the deputy secretary and national secretary and national security adviser,” Ryder said. He declined to answer follow-up questions about why none of Austin’s other aides could notify the White House or his deputy of his hospitalization sooner.

On Saturday, it was reported that President Joe Biden was not aware of Austin’s hospitalization for days.

National security adviser Jake Sullivan ultimately informed Biden of the hospitalization late Thursday afternoon, soon after Sullivan himself learned that Austin had been hospitalized.

Ryder told CNN on Sunday that Austin transferred “certain operational responsibilities that require constant secure communications capabilities” to Hicks on January 2, the day after he was admitted to Walter Reed.

Hicks, who was on vacation in Puerto Rico at the time, was not informed of Austin’s hospitalization until the afternoon of January 4, defense officials said. Ryder told CNN that it is “not uncommon” for the secretary to transfer certain responsibilities without providing a specific reason.

Ryder told CNN that Austin “has no plans to resign” over the episode, which has left many Pentagon officials deeply frustrated and questioning why they were kept in the dark.

The White House insists that President Joe Biden — who did not learn that Austin was hospitalized until three days after the secretary checked into Walter Reed on January 1 — still has full confidence in Austin. The two had a “cordial” conversation on Saturday evening, the White House said, in which Biden told Austin he looked forward to having him back at work.