Top Pentagon Aide Departs Amidst Austin Health Crisis Fallout

 June 6, 2024

The Pentagon announced Wednesday that Kelly Magsamen, the chief of staff to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, will step down at the end of June.

Magsamen's departure follows criticism for not informing the White House and Congress of Austin’s emergency hospitalization last winter.

Austin expressed gratitude for Magsamen's service over 3½ years in a statement but did not explain her departure. Independent news outlet Stars and Stripes reported that Magsamen had been a key figure in Austin's tenure, which included significant events such as the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and Israel's conflict in Gaza.

Turbulent Tenure Marked by Major Global Events

According to a senior defense official who spoke anonymously, Magsamen will be replaced on an acting basis by Caroline Zier, Austin’s deputy chief of staff. Despite her pivotal role, Magsamen rarely spoke publicly on Austin's behalf.

Her involvement in a political controversy arose after it was revealed that Austin had been treated for prostate cancer and hospitalized without President Joe Biden being informed. The Pentagon later acknowledged that Magsamen and a few top officials learned of Austin's hospitalization on January 2 but delayed notifying the White House and Congress.

The Pentagon attempted to explain this lapse by stating that Magsamen had the flu during that week and that Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks assumed Austin’s duties without being told why. An investigation by the Defense Department’s independent inspector general is ongoing, with a report expected later this year.

Controversy Over Handling Of Austin's Medical Crisis

Pentagon spokeswoman Sabrina Singh emphasized that Magsamen's departure is unrelated to the inspector general’s findings and that she has earned some well-deserved time off. The controversy caused a significant reaction among lawmakers from both parties.

Austin apologized for the secrecy, saying the cancer diagnosis was a personal issue he preferred to handle privately. He admitted his error in not informing the president and his team about his condition, taking full responsibility for the miscommunication.

Austin said:

I want to be crystal clear: We did not handle this right. 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 the American people.

Magsamen's Public Stance on Military Promotions

Though typically behind the scenes, Magsamen spoke out last year against Sen. Tommy Tuberville's hold on military promotions. Tuberville challenged Austin over his policy on travel reimbursements for military women seeking abortions after the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Magsamen highlighted on social media the extensive work of an Army general involved in aiding Ukraine against Russia. Her posts emphasized the dedication and long hours put in by military officials, reflecting her frustration with the halted promotions. “He probably works about 18 hours a day. 7 days a week,” she wrote, describing the general's role as “literally holding the world together.”

Austin Praises Magsamen's Contributions

Austin praised Magsamen as the “chief architect” of his initiatives and expressed his gratitude for her service during his tenure. Despite her low public profile, Magsamen played a crucial role in significant policy decisions and operations. Her departure, however, comes amid ongoing scrutiny and investigation into the handling of Austin's medical condition. To maintain the integrity of the investigative process, the inspector general’s review continues without a set timeline for completion.

In conclusion, Kelly Magsamen's departure from her role as chief of staff to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin brings an end to her influential yet controversial tenure. The investigation into the handling of Austin's medical condition remains ongoing, with Magsamen's future plans still unknown. Her service, marked by significant global and political events, has left an indelible mark on the Pentagon's recent history.

About Robert Cunningham

With years of experience at the forefront of political commentary, Robert Cunningham brings a blend of sharp wit and deep insight to his analysis of American principles at the Capitalism Institute.

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