Here Were the Most STINGING WH Briefing Questions About the Lloyd Austin Scandal

January 10th, 2024 4:45 PM

As we’ve seen throughout the Biden administration when the liberal press choose to bring the heat during White House press briefings, it’s usually only good for a day or two before they fall in line. Worse yet in the case of ABC, CBS, and NBC, we almost never see probing questions and/or tense exchanges surface on their flagship morning and evening newscasts. 

On cue, that happened on Tuesday in the first briefing following Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin admitting he went AWOL starting on New Year’s Day as he had prostate cancer.

After Kirby admitted to the AP’s Josh Boak that Biden only learned of the diagnosis on Tuesday, the real questions took shape, starting with CBS’s Nancy Cordes, whose questions were brutal for the Pentagon.

During the back-and-forth, Kirby revealed the White House didn’t know about Austin’s December 22 surgery and that he was under general anesthesia (click “expand”):

CORDES: So, the President has known for, I guess, five days now that Secretary Austin was in the hospital but he wasn't informed why?

KIRBY: He was not informed until last Friday that Sec. Austin was in the hospital. He was not informed until this morning that the root cause of that hospitalization was prostate cancer.

CORDES: Is that because the White House knew and didn't inform the President or because Secretary Austin chose not to share that with the President?

KIRBY: Nobody at the White House knew that Secretary Austin had prostate cancer until this morning and the President was informed immediately after we were informed.


CORDES: We learned also today that Secretary Austin when he went into the hospital for the first time on December 22, he knew he was going to be under general anesthesia, spending the night, and transferred authority to his deputy secretary. Was the White House informed then that the authority was going to be transferred?


CORDES: Is that what’s supposed to happen?

KIRBY: There are — the delegations of authority can happen I wouldn't say on a regular basis, but it's not uncommon for the secretary of defense to delegate to the deputy, sometimes for very short periods of time. But I think one of the things we're all going to want to learn from this is the notification process for that delegation of authority.

CORDES: Is there an expectation when a secretary is indisposed or hospitalized and has to transfer authority that the White House would be notified?


CORDES: So, finally, who does the President hold responsible for this lapse? Secretary Austin? His aides? The Chairman of Joint Chiefs, who — who clearly knew about this the day after the secretary was hospitalized?

JEAN-PIERRE: So, I will say this. Secretary Austin put out a statement and he took full responsibility for this...[W]e certainly hope that he fully recovers and also gets back to the Pentagon and so, I'll leave it there. His statement was clear the other day.

Isolated Kirby soundbites were aired, but none of these back-and-forths made Tuesday’s CBS Evening News or Wednesday’s CBS Mornings.

ABC’s Selina Wang had more devastating questions that weren’t shown on Tuesday’s World News Tonight or Wednesday’s Good Morning America, starting with: “Walter Reed said that he was diagnosed with a cancer last month, so just to confirm, the President did not know the diagnosis or that he was hospitalized?”

After Jean-Pierre said “no,” Wang asked if this means there’s “a lack of trust between the Pentagon and the White House” since Austin kept this from them. Jean-Pierre demurred, arguing “we” still “have complete confidence in” Austin. 

Wang brought Kirby back in and asked if he heard anything from his former colleagues at the Pentagon (since Kirby came to the White House from Austin’s team), but Kirby punted to them.

Wang continued to ask questions followed by Reuters’s Steve Holland, CNN’s M.J. Lee, and the NBC’s Gabe Gutierrez. Gutierrez’s question — with was ignored on NBC Nightly News and Todaywas biting: “The President didn’t learn about this for a month after the diagnosis in early December. Just quite simply, does the President think that’s acceptable?”

Kirby became blunt, saying it hasn’t been “optimal...for a situation like this to go as long as it did” and, in fact, “not the way this is supposed to happen”, but lessons would be learned.

Gutierrez’s follow-up was met with a punt to Walter Reed doctors: “The Pentagon referred to the surgery as an elective procedure. Technically, it may be, but isn’t that, at best, misleading?”

Fox’s Peter Doocy didn’t disappoint: “[W]hat kind of commander-in-chief is President Biden that, at a time, when American forces are under fire in the Middle East, he can go days without knowing that his Defense Secretary is in a hospital bed?”

Kirby went on a lengthy, rambling screed about how much the U.S. government accomplished around the holidays where Austin’s whereabouts were known, as if to suggest Austin’s not that important.

Doocy kept pressing: “[W]hy should we believe anything that this administration tells us about anything ever again?”

Kirby doubled down on previous answers, which was that “we all recognize and I think the Pentagon has been very, very honest” there were mistakes and everyone would do better.

Not satisfied, Doocy wondered if Team Biden wasn’t honest about a key cabinet official, what’s to stop them from doing this with the President’s health. That’s when things got spicy (click “expand”):

DOOCY: But, if the administration is going to great lengths to keep secrets about the Defense Secretary's health, how can anybody be certain that the administration would not go to the same lengths to keep secrets about the President's health in the future?”

KIRBY: If — if you could logically argue — and you can't — but if you could logically argue that the admin —

DOOCY: How —

KIRBY: — wait, wait —

DOOCY: — he's 81 years old.

KIRBY: — wait a second. Just give me a second here, bub.

DOOCY: What’s — there —

KIRBY: I'll get there. If — if the administration made some sort of Machiavellian effort across the board to keep this from getting public, then I think your question has merit and, certainly is a fair one. I don't think it's a fair one because that's not what happened here, Peter. What happened here is secretary of defense for whatever reason, I can't answer the question why, that information wasn't shared, wasn’t shared widely in the department, and it certainly wasn’t shared with the inner agencies.

DOOCY: — isn’t that worse?

KIRBY: It’s not. It’s not good. It’s certainly good, which is why, again, we want to learn from this. We want to — we want to make sure that it doesn't happen again.

A few minutes after questions from Doocy’s Fox colleague Jared Halpern, The New York Times’s Peter Baker brought about a stunning “no” when he asked whether the White House knew about the original December 22 when Austin went under.

One final exchange of note from Tuesday was Real Clear Politics’s Philip Wegmann, who brought up any concerns about whether Biden “believe[s] that there ought to be any consequences for any DoD officials who knew about the condition of Sec. Austin, but did not report that information to the White House.”

When Kirby demurred, Wegmann pushed back by reminding him that it matters since this isn’t the White House’s Defense Department, but the American people’s Defense Department.

Sure enough, the Austin questions on Wednesday were more tame and absolving of the White House. However, Jeff Mordock of The Washington Times went against the grain by wondering how was Austin able to “disappear for four days without anybody noticing, or really even seeming to wonder where he is, how essential is he.”

Kirby doubled back to his lengthy answer to Doocy, reiterating “military operations” were able to be “conducted” with Austin having only been part of the early planning, showing it’s “not uncommon on any given day here in D.C. that a Cabinet officer isn’t present for a certain meeting and either can call in by phone or have a deputy represent ‘em.”

To see the relevant briefing transcripts (which include questions about other salient topics to NewsBusters readers), click here (for December 9) and here (for December 10).