President Biden first learned of U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s prostate cancer on Tuesday — the same day as the public and a month after the diagnosis.
Walter Reed National Military Medical Center revealed Tuesday that Austin was first diagnosed with prostate cancer in early December and underwent a prostatectomy on Dec. 22.
Per Walter Reed, the 70-year-old recovered uneventfully from his surgery, and he returned the following morning. His prostate cancer was detected early, and the prognosis is “excellent,” the hospital said.
During his hospitalization, Austin transferred authority to his Deputy Secretary, Kathleen Hicks, and did not inform the White House. The Defense Department has for days said Austin was initially at Walter Reed for an “elective medical procedure,” and not prostate surgery.
White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said later Tuesday that Biden was not informed of Austin’s hospitalization until last Thursday, and only learned of the cancer diagnosis Tuesday.
Asked whether President Biden believed the time-lapse was acceptable, Kirby admitted it was “not optimal.”
WHITE HOUSE LAUNCHING REVIEW OF CABINET PROTOCOLS AFTER DEFENSE SECRETARY’S SECRET HOSPITALIZATION: MEMO
“For a situation like this to go as long as it did without the commander-in-chief knowing about it, or the national security adviser knowing about it, or frankly, other leaders at the Department of Defense, that’s not the way this is supposed to happen. The president understands that,” Kirby said.
White House Chief of Staff Jeff Zients released a memo earlier Tuesday to the president’s cabinet concerning protocols for delegating authority. It asks that every cabinet agency submit in writing their current existing protocols for a delegation of authority they have in place for review to the White House Office of Cabinet Affairs and the Chief of Staff by Friday.
Zients’ memo also directs protocols that cabinet agencies must undertake in the event of a delegation of authority, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said. The Pentagon has also launched its own review.
“We all recognize that this didn’t unfold the way it should have. On so many levels, not just the notification process up the chain of command, but the transparency issue — we all recognize that. And I think we all want to make sure we learn from that,” Kirby said.
It was still not clear Tuesday how this would affect Austin’s job, travel or other public engagements going forward.
The Pentagon issued a memo Monday on its own internal review, and broadened the circle of leaders who would be informed of any delegation of authorities by the defense secretary to ensure that, in the future, “proper and timely notification has been made to the President and White House and, as appropriate, the United States Congress and the American public.”
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Going forward, any time authority is transferred, a wider swath of officials will also be notified to include the Pentagon’s general counsel, the chair and vice chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Combatant Commanders, service secretaries, the service chiefs of staff, the White House Situation Room, and the senior staff of the secretary and deputy secretary of defense.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.