U.S. military personnel realized early on during the Benghazi attack that it was a “hostile action,” and not a protest that escalated, a retired U.S. general told lawmakers on Thursday.
"What we did know early on was that this was a hostile action," Retired Air Force Brigadier General Robert Lovell told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. "This was no demonstration gone terribly awry."
Lovell served as deputy director for intelligence for U.S. Africa Command headquarters in Germany during the Benghazi attack.
Republicans have charged that the White House initially linked the September 11, 2012, attack to a protest because it wanted to play down the idea it was a terrorist attack amid the presidential election that year.
Administration officials in the days after the attack linked it to protests of an anti-Islamic video that had circulated online.
Since then, the administration has acknowledged the attack was an act of terrorism, but Republicans have revisited the issue this week since the release of new emails from White House adviser Ben Rhodes.
In those emails, sent in advance of television appearances by then-United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice, Rhodes said officials should make it a goal to show that the protests were based on an Internet video.
Rep. Jason ChaffetzJason ChaffetzFBI: No evidence Clinton ordered deletion of subpoenaed email archive FBI silent on pending Clinton perjury probe House to vote this week on contempt for former Clinton IT staffer MORE (R-Utah) asked Lovell how soon he and other U.S. officials knew it was an attack involving an al Qaeda-affiliated group.
“Very, very soon. When we were still in the early hours of this activity,” Lovell said.
"As the attack was ongoing, it was unclear whether it was an attempted kidnapping, rescue, recovery, protracted hostile engagement or any or all of the above," he added.
Lovell said the military waited for a request for assistance from the State Department that night, but he said the military should have done more in the meantime.
"We should have tried,” he said.
“Was it a video?” Chaffetz asked in a raised voice. “No sir,” Lovell replied.
“Was it a video that sparked a protest?” Chaffetz asked. “No sir,” Lovell said again.
Chaffetz said Lovell’s testimony proves no video was involved in the attack.
“The military, the CIA, the CIA station chief, the State Department; all of them, the facts at the time, Mr. Chairman, the facts do not point to a video,” Chaffetz said. “That only comes from the White House.”