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Rep. Darrell E. Issa, California Republican and the House’s top investigator of Benghazi, said Thursday that it was “perhaps criminal” of the Obama administration to withhold the email.

“The facts are coming out that this administration has knowingly withheld documents pursuant to congressional subpoenas,” Mr. Issa said as he opened a hearing into the administration’s handling of the deadly attack, which killed U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

Testifying at the hearing was Brig. Gen. Robert Lovell, who was overseeing intelligence for Africom the night of the attack and said the military knew early on that the violence wasn’t about a video.

He also said the decision not to respond with military action likely was made outside of the Defense Department. He said the military was waiting on a request from the State Department — a request that never came.

“Basically, there was a lot of looking to the State Department for what they wanted and the deference to the Libyan people and the sense of deference to the desires of the State Department in terms of what they would like to have,” the general testified.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, California Republican, said Gen. Lovell’s role didn’t give him reliable insight into the scope of options available to commanders.

“The Armed Services Committee has interviewed more than a dozen witnesses in the operational chain of command that night, yielding thousands of pages of transcripts, e-mails, and other documents. We have no evidence that Department of State officials delayed the decision to deploy what few resources DoD had available to respond,” Mr. McKeon said in a statement.