Republicans seized on the testimony of a general in the United States' Africa Command at the time of the Benghazi attacks on Sept. 11, 2012, to assert that the White House was misleading the public about the way events unfolded.

Brig. Gen. Robert Lovell, who has since retired from the Air Force, said that in the "very early, early hours" of the attacks he had concluded that al Qaeda affiliates or al Qaeda itself had been behind the attacks.

His testimony, from a senior officer, contradicts early White House suggestions that the attacks resulted from an escalation of protests held in anger about an anti-Islam YouTube video.

"Did they ever tell you to go save the people in Benghazi?" asked Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, in a charged exchange with the retired general.

"Not to my knowledge, sir," Lovell replied. "We obviously did not respond in time to get there."

"Could we have?" Chaffetz pressed.

"We may have been able to, but we'll never know," Lovell said.

The general said that the question of whether they had the capability to rescue American lives during the attacks was being overemphasized.

"Could we have gotten there in time to make a difference? The discussion is not 'could' or 'could not' ... the point is we should have tried," he said. "As another saying goes, 'always move to the sound of the guns.'"

Democrats dismissed the latest developments from the hearing. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters Thursday, "You all want to sit around and talk about Benghazi, you can sit around and talk about Benghazi. But the fact is, that's a subterfuge [for the issues] they don't want to talk about -- jobs, growth, immigration reform, voting rights, you name it."