Washington, D.C. - Today, the House Armed Services Committee held a hearing on Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin’s failure to notify the President, Congress, and the American people that he was out of the Chain of Command and unable to perform his duties as Secretary of Defense. 

Congresswoman Stefanik demanded that Secretary Austin take full responsibility for leaving American service members, including over 2,500 10th Mountain Division troops deployed to the Middle East, vulnerable to attack and continues to push for his resignation due to this clear dereliction of duty.



Watch her line of questioning here.

Read a full transcript of her line of questioning below:

Congresswoman Stefanik: Thank you Mr. Chairman. On the morning of January 4th, Mr. Secretary, you were in the Critical Care Unit, the Acting Secretary of Defense was vacationing in Puerto Rico, and President Biden was unaware that you were not in the Chain of Command. Now as you know I represent Fort Drum and the 10th Mountain Division which you know well. Thank you for your service there in the North Country. But on this same date of January 4th, do you know how many 10th Mountain Division soldiers were deployed and are still deployed today in Iraq and Syria in support of Operation Inherent Resolve?

Secretary Austin: You know I know that they are deployed. I don't know what the number is.

Congresswoman Stefanik: It’s just over 2,500. And on January 4th at approximately 4 A.M. our time, the U.S. carried out a significant strike against a senior Iranian-backed leader in Iraq. Correct?

Secretary Austin: That’s correct.

Congresswoman Stefanik: And because President Biden did not know you were outside of the Chain of Command during this U.S. strike, if Iran or its proxies in Iraq or Syria had carried out a retaliatory strike against 10th Mountain Division soldiers, the President’s Chain of Command would have and could have broken down potentially delaying Presidential orders to protect lives of American forces, constituents that I represent. Do you understand why this is unacceptable to the American people and to those military families?

Secretary Austin: Well, thanks. First of all, I would say that when we’re attacked we have a right to defend ourselves and respond immediately if it’s a local attack. If a strike is warranted, then recommendations need to be provided to the President. Those recommendations come through from me and after I’ve consulted with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and also the Combatant Commander. The Deputy Secretary would have done the same thing and she has all of the capabilities and situational awareness to do that.

Congresswoman Stefanik: Except the President wasn’t aware. The President of the United States was not aware that you were not in the Chain of Command, so God forbid there was a retaliatory strike, that would have caused potential delays and it is unacceptable. Let me ask you this: what disciplinary action would a junior servicemember face if he or she failed to properly notify their Chain of Command and failed to report for duty?

Secretary Austin: If a service member was in a hospital I think the Chain of Command would be concerned about why they were in the hospital and make sure that they are doing the right things to take care of them and their families.

Congresswoman Stefanik: But don't you think it's their responsibility to notify their commanding officer?

Secretary Austin: I think, possible, yes.

Congresswoman Stefanik: The answer is yes.

Secretary Austin: In my case, you know I would expect that my organization would do the right things to notify senior leaders if I am the patient in the hospital.

Congresswoman Stefanik: It is unacceptable and you have admitted as such that there was a breakdown in communication with the President of the United States and I highlight the exact time, 4 A.M., January 4th, when you considered 10th Mountain division soldiers and the potential for retaliatory attack, that breakdown is unacceptable. And you said something very important. You said there was never a break in command and control. But yet the President of the United States was not aware that you were outside of the Chain of Command. So is the President not a part of this command and control? Don’t you believe that the Commander in Chief and the Sec. Def, that is critical for command and control?

Secretary Austin: He is clearly at the top of the chain in terms of command and control, but what is important is that we provide him with credible options that he can pursue to address any situation and it would’ve happened in this case.

Congresswoman Stefanik: Except he was unaware, so what’s important is the President was unaware of this breakdown in command and control and you were not there in terms of who he would hear from.