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Banks grills defense secretary on January absence

Banks grills defense secretary on absence

WASHINGTON (WISH) — Congressman Jim Banks on Thursday all but accused Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin of handing a propaganda coup to America’s enemies during his January absence.

Austin went to Walter Reed National Medical Center due to complications related to prostate cancer on Jan. 1. President Joe Biden was not informed until Jan. 4, with the rest of the public finding out the following day.

Banks, who chairs the House Subcommittee on Military Personnel, a component of the House Armed Services Committee, was the first to question Austin during a Thursday hearing on the matter. Banks asked Austin if he directed anyone on his staff not to inform the president. Austin replied he never gave anyone any such order.

“I have said we didn’t get this right and we put measures in place to ensure the notification process is improved going forward,” said Austin.

Banks did not appear satisfied with Austin’s answers, saying he was surprised Biden didn’t ask for Austin’s resignation. He asked if it was common practice for the president and the secretary of defense not to speak for days. Austin said he and Biden sometimes will go a few days without communicating directly, typically if one of them is traveling.

Banks said the entire incident had emboldened America’s enemies, citing quotes about the matter from Chinese and Russian propaganda sources.

“Secretary, our adversaries should fear us and what you’ve done is embarrass us,” said Banks.

The secretary of defense and the president together constitute the National Command Authority, from which all orders to the U.S. Armed Forces ultimately emanate, and the secretary is sixth in the presidential line of succession. Austin told lawmakers in Thursday’s hearing he had no access to communications during the period from Jan. 2 through 4, when he was in the hospital’s critical care unit. According to a 30-day review of the situation released a few days before the hearing, Austin’s office had notified his second-in-command, Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks, of a transfer of authority to her on the afternoon of Jan. 2, but did not inform her of Austin’s hospitalization until Jan. 4.