MIL-OSI USA: Rep. Gallagher: This Illustrates an Unacceptable Breakdown in the Chain of Command

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Source: United States House of Representatives – Congressman Mike Gallagher (8th District Wisconsin)

Today, Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI), Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee’s Subcommittee on Cyber, Information Technologies, and Innovation, released the following statement after Secretary Austin admitted to him under oath that anonymous military officials made a decision to transfer his authority to the Deputy Secretary of Defense while he was hospitalized in January:

“We should all pray for the speedy recovery of Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. His admission under oath that anonymous military aides made the decision to transfer authority to the Deputy Secretary of Defense while he was hospitalized illustrates an unacceptable breakdown in the chain of command and civilian control of the military. No one has been held accountable for this failure. The Armed Services Committee must continue its investigation into this incident and demand accoutability. Toward that end the full investigation should be immediately declassified.”

Read the full exchange between Rep. Gallagher and Secretary Lloyd Austin below or watch it HERE

Rep. Gallagher: Mr. Secretary, to review you went in for the initial procedure on December 22. Your testimony says the DepSecDef then, quote, assumed the functions and duties of your office and was serving as acting secretary of defense, correct? 

Secretary Austin: That’s right. 

Rep. Gallagher: Did you then personally make the decision on December 22, to transfer authority to the deputy secretary defense?

Secretary Austin: I did. 

Rep. Gallagher: So does 10 USC 132 B, which you cite in your testimony, does it require you to make the decision? And is there any notification to the president required by statute? 

Secretary Austin: It does not. By law, if I’m unable to perform the duties of the office, then the responsibilities and authorities transition to the deputy secretary.

Rep. Gallagher: And you can assure us today, under oath, that you and you alone, not a military aide, made the decision to execute the TOA to the deputy secretary of defense?

Secretary Austin: On December 22? 

Rep. Gallagher: Yes.

Secretary Austin: That’s right and I instructed my assistants to put the process in place. 

Rep. Gallagher: Thank you. What prevented you at that initial hospitalization, which was a plan procedure, from telling the president, albeit privately, about your condition, that you had cancer? 

Secretary Austin: As I said, diagnosis of cancer is a very personal and deeply troubling issue, and it’s one that, quite frankly, I described it as a gut punch. And again, I didn’t want to burden the president with one of my personal issues. But I have also said that I didn’t get this right. I should have informed him. I should have talked to him about it. And I have since talked to the president, I have apologized, and he responded with the warmth and empathy that anybody who knows Joe Biden-

Rep. Gallagher: I have limited time. I’m sorry, I don’t mean to be rude. You just said you expect your organization, in early questioning, to do the right thing and notify higher. But when you initially went in, it was not your intent or expectation to notify higher, you didn’t expect your organization to notify the president? Correct?

Secretary Austin: You know, as I said, I didn’t get that right and it was not done approprietly. 

Rep. Gallagher: I appreciate that, that candor, but just so I have clarity, your initial intent was to go in, have the procedure, and for there to be not any complications and the White House would be none the wiser in the process, correct? 

Secretary Austin: We didn’t, I didn’t instruct anybody to notify anyone. That’s right. 

Rep. Gallagher: So it is not the fault of your organization or aid not to notify higher, at least in that initial case.

Secretary Austin: That’s right. 

Rep. Gallagher: You take full responsibility. You went back to the hospital on January 1, your condition worsened at which point you said earlier, the decision was made to transfer authorities again to the DepSecDef. Again, did you make that decision to transfer authorities?

Secretary Austin: I did not. The decision was whether or not they had reached a point, a threshold, where I could not communicate, or have access to secure communications. 

Rep. Gallagher: So your condition was severe such that you could not personally action the transfer of authority? 

Secretary Austin: The issue was number one, they could not get to me. But number two, it was access to secure communications. It had nothing to do with my physical condition at the time.

Rep. Gallagher: And yet the decision was made. So who made the decision? 

Secretary Austin: Well as my assistants conferred, they agreed that we had reached that threshold, and they should put the process in place and they did, and I think it was the right decision. 

Rep. Gallagher: So your military assistants made the decision to transfer authority to the deputy secretary of defense? 

Secretary Austin: The military aids made the decision to initiate the process. I mean, the law says that if I’m unable to- 

Chairman Rogers: The gentleman’s time has expired. 

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