A view of the Pentagon.

A view of the Pentagon. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

The chief of staff to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will step down, the Pentagon said Wednesday, months after she drew criticism for not informing the White House and Congress of Austin’s emergency hospitalization last winter.

Kelly Magsamen will depart at the end of June, Austin said in a statement expressing gratitude for her service over 3½ years. She has served beside him since the beginning of his tenure, a turbulent period that included the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Israel’s war in Gaza.

Austin called her “the chief architect of every initiative I have launched.” His statement did not indicate why Magsamen, who was traveling with Austin in France on Wednesday, was leaving. Attempts to reach her for comment were not successful.

Magsamen will be replaced on an acting basis by Caroline Zier, who had been Austin’s deputy chief of staff, said a senior defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity ahead of the move becoming official.

Magsamen, who rarely spoke publicly on Austin’s behalf, became mired in the political controversy that arose after it was revealed that he had been treated for prostate cancer in December and hospitalized in critical condition for days in January without President Joe Biden being made aware.

At the time, the Pentagon said not even Magsamen had been told about Austin’s cancer diagnosis and surgery. But it later acknowledged that when she and a handful of other top officials did learn Jan. 2 that there were complications and that he had been hospitalized in critical condition, they waited to make the appropriate notifications.

In attempting to explain the lapse, the Pentagon said Magsamen had been sick that week with the flu, and that Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks, though vacationing in Puerto Rico, had assumed Austin’s duties when his surgery was performed. It was later disclosed that Hicks was not told why she would need to do so.

The Defense Department’s independent inspector general opened an investigation in January and is expected to issue a report later this year.

A Pentagon spokeswoman, Sabrina Singh, told reporters later Wednesday that Magsamen has “earned some well-deserved time off,” and that her departure has nothing to do with the inspector general’s findings.

Mollie Halpern, a spokeswoman for the inspector general, said the review is ongoing and that the office would not provide a timeline for its completion “to protect the integrity of the investigative process.”

The episode caused a furor among lawmakers in both political parties, with Democrats lamenting that Austin showed poor judgment and House Republicans summoning him to Capitol Hill for a public dressing-down as he continued to recover in late February.

Austin has apologized for the secrecy surrounding his medical crisis, saying the cancer diagnosis was a “gut punch” he was inclined to handle privately, and resisting calls to hold accountable those on his staff who had a duty to alert the president that a key member of his national security team was incapacitated.

“I want to be crystal clear: We did not handle this right. I did not handle this right,” Austin said then. “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.”

Though she preferred to work behind the scenes, Magsamen was moved to speak out last year amid Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s months-long hold on hundreds of military promotions.

The Alabama Republican had challenged Austin over his travel reimbursement policy for military women seeking abortions and other reproductive care out of state after the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade in 2022. Frustrated by the partisanship that halted the promotions, Magsamen called attention on social media to an Army general deeply involved in the Pentagon’s effort to help Ukraine resist the Kremlin’s onslaught.

“He probably works about 18 hours a day. 7 days a week,” she wrote, characterizing the general’s mandate as “literally holding the world together.”

Magsamen has held other senior roles in the U.S. government, serving on the White House’s National Security Council under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, as a senior Pentagon official during the Obama administration, and in the State Department from 2005 to 2008. It was not immediately clear what she intends to do next.

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