White House press secretary Josh Earnest initially used the word "if" when asked whether Wednesday's deadly attack in France was an act of terrorism.
Appearing on CNN, Earnest was pressed about describing the attack as "violence" instead of terrorism.
"Based on what we know right now, it does seem like that's what we're confronting here," Earnest said. "This is an act of violence that we certainly do condemn and, you know, if based on this investigation it turns out to be an act of terrorism, then we would condemn that in the strongest possible terms, too."
Twelve people were killed after masked gunmen stormed the Paris offices of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, which has been repeatedly threatened for publishing cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. French President Francois Hollande quickly labeled the assault "a terrorist attack without a doubt."
Following Earnest's CNN appearance, a statement from President Barack Obama definitively called it a "terrorist attack."
"I strongly condemn the horrific shooting at the offices of Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris that has reportedly killed 12 people. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims of this terrorist attack and the people of France at this difficult time," Obama said.
Shortly afterward on Fox News, Earnest repeated: "This is an act of terror that we condemn in the strongest possible terms."
But Fox News anchor Bill Hemmer questioned him: "Just 30 minutes ago you called it a terrible act of violence … and now you call it terror, what changed in 30 minutes, Josh?"
"This is still something that we're looking into," Earnest said. "I know that the French president has called this an act of terror, it does seem to be that's exactly what this is. Again, this is an act of violence against innocent civilians."
He continued: "This is a newspaper that has been targeted in the past and while we're still waiting to see who's actually responsible for this and what their motivation may have been, if it is what it seems to be, this isn't just an attack on innocent civilians, this seems to be an attack on some basic universal human values, human rights — freedom of the press, freedom of expression, free speech — these are values that we hold dear in this country, these our values our allies in France hold dear."