Commerce Secretary John Bryson, facing felony hit-and-run charges stemming from two car crashes in Southern California over the weekend, is taking a medical leave of absence from his post "as he undergoes tests and evaluations," the White House announced late Monday.
"The President's thoughts are with Secretary Bryson and his family during this time. Secretary Bryson assured the White House that the Commerce Department staff will not miss a beat in their work helping America's businesses compete," President Barack Obama's chief spokesman, Jay Carney, said in a statement.
Hours earlier, Obama said in an interview broadcast that he hoped Bryson was "doing alright" after the top trade official was hospitalized for what an aide described as a "seizure" in connection to the incident.
"My hope is that he's doing alright. We're still trying to find out, it sounds like it was health-related in some way," Obama told KTIV television of Sioux Falls, Iowa. "But we're going to make sure, obviously, that he gets the best care and, you know, we'll be able to make a determination from there."Obama said he had not spoken to Bryson and "just found out about this today," two days after the incident. Bryson allegedly caused two separate car accidents in the space of five minutes late Saturday afternoon in southern California. The cabinet secretary was at the wheel of his Lexus when he rear-ended a Buick that was stopped at a railroad crossing in San Gabriel, according to the San Gabriel Police Department. He spoke with the Buick's male occupants, then drove away, "hitting the same car again as he left," said a police statement. The men tailed Bryson and called police. They witnessed the secretary hit a second car.
At his daily briefing, Carney declined to offer information regarding Bryson's condition or whether he would stay in his post. But hours later, the spokesman said the commerce secretary had "informed the White House tonight that he will be taking a medical leave of absence from his position as Commerce Secretary as he undergoes tests and evaluations."
KTIV was one of eight TV stations given an exclusive interview with the president — six from battleground states Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, Virginia and Wisconsin and two from California and South Carolina.