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Defense Secretary Austin transfers duties to deputy as he is hospitalized, Pentagon says

Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images

Originally Published: 11 FEB 24 16:56 ET Updated: 12 FEB 24 05:43 ET By Oren Liebermann, CNN

(CNN) — Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin transferred his duties to his deputy as he is hospitalized for treatment for symptoms “suggesting an emergent bladder issue,” according to the Pentagon.

Austin has been admitted into the critical care unit at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, and it is “not clear how long Secretary Austin will remain hospitalized,” according to a statement released Sunday night from officials at the hospital.

Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks assumed the functions and duties of the top spot at the Pentagon shortly before 5 p.m., Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder, the Pentagon press secretary, said in a statement. The White House, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff and Congress have been notified.

The rapid notification of Austin’s visit to the hospital – the first statement from the Pentagon was released within three hours – came after the defense secretary acknowledged failures in notifying the administration and the public about his previous hospitalization.

Lloyd was taken to Walter Reed around 2:20 p.m., Ryder said.

Austin traveled to the hospital with unclassified and classified communications systems that are required for his duties.

Austin was diagnosed with prostate cancer in early December and underwent a procedure to treat the cancer on December 22. That procedure required general anesthesia and an overnight stay at Walter Reed.

He then returned to the hospital on New Year’s Day after suffering from complications as a result of the procedure.

Austin’s unannounced hospitalization, which was not disclosed to the media or President Joe Biden and other senior administration officials for days, raised major questions about transparency within the administration. Republicans have been highly critical of how the Pentagon handled Austin’s illness, and the defense secretary is scheduled to testify to the House Armed Services Committee at the end of the month about his failure to notify key government leaders.

Austin remained in the hospital for two weeks, then worked from home for another two weeks as he continued his recovery.

On February 1, in his first news conference since his hospitalization, Austin acknowledged that his handling of the diagnosis and the hospitalization was a mistake.

“We did not handle this right, and I did not handle this right. I should have told the president about my cancer diagnosis. I should have also told my team and the American public. And I take full responsibility. I apologize to my teammates and to the American people,” Austin said.

Last week, the Office of the Secretary of Defense completed a 30-day review of the notification procedures around a transfer of responsibilities.

At a news briefing Thursday, Ryder said Austin has received the review and is reviewing it. Ryder also said much of the review is classified, but the Pentagon would try to make public as much as possible.

“We remain committed to being as transparent as possible about the review, and we’ll have more information once the secretary’s review is complete,” Ryder said.

This story has been updated with additional details.

CNN’s Natasha Bertrand contributed to this report. 

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