Continued from page 2

The Republican questioning prompted some to suggest the hearing had been taken over by election-year politics.

“I certainly hope that today’s hearing is not going to be perceived as an effort to exploit a tragedy for political purposes 27 days out from an election,” said Rep. Gerald E. Connolly, Virginia Democrat.

Lawmakers from both sides praised Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and her subordinates for their cooperation. But hopes of an amicable hearing soon evaporated, as Democrats accused Rep. Darrell E. Issa, committee chairman, of withholding documents and witnesses that were provided to the committee.

Mr. Issa, California Republican, also “effectively excluded Democrats from a congressional delegation to Libya this past weekend,” said Mr. Cummings. “It’s a shame that they are resorting to such petty abuses in what should be a serious and responsible investigation of this fatal attack.”

President Obama’s spokesman said Wednesday that the White House was not avoiding a politically damaging admission when officials resisted describing the attack on the consulate as the work of terrorists.

“From the beginning, we have provided information based on the facts that we knew,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said.

State Department officials acknowledged for the first time Tuesday night that the assault on the consulate did not involve any anti-American protests over the film. For more than a week after the attack, Mr. Carney and other administration officials portrayed the violence as a result of the protests.

But the government now acknowledges that the four Americans were killed as part of a planned attack on the U.S. diplomatic post by terrorists using heavy weaponry such as mortars and rocket-propelled grenades.

Mr. Carney said the president described the attack as an act of terror on Sept. 12, when he said in the White House Rose Garden, “No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation.”

But the president has refrained in his comments since then from describing the assault in Benghazi as terrorism.

Even after some administration officials acknowledged on Sept. 19 that the U.S. had suffered a terrorist attack, Mr. Obama gave a speech to the United Nations on Sept. 25 in which he talked at length about the movie but never mentioned the word “terrorism.”

Mr. Carney said the administration was relaying reliable information to the public as quickly as possible, and he denied that there was a political motive in the midst of the president’s re-election campaign.

“We’re focused on the facts as we get them,” he said. “Efforts to rush to a conclusion are not helpful.”

• Dave Boyer contributed to this report.