State Department challenges Clinton claim that emails to officials ‘immediately’ saved

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A State Department spokeswoman said Friday that the department did not start automatically archiving emails from senior officials until February of this year -- raising questions about Hillary Clinton's claim that her emails were "immediately" saved whenever she corresponded with colleagues.

The former secretary of state made that assertion during her press conference earlier this week -- and in a lengthy statement put out by her office -- as she defended her exclusive use of personal email. Clinton downplayed concerns that official emails could have been lost by suggesting anytime she emailed anyone with a ".gov" address, that email would be stored for posterity.

"The vast majority of my work emails went to government employees at their government addresses, which meant they were captured and preserved immediately on the system at the State Department," she said Tuesday.

But department spokeswoman Jen Psaki made clear on Friday that this was not the way the system worked.

She said the department only started automatically archiving emails for other senior officials in February.

"They have long been planning to do this. It's just something that it took some time to put in place," Psaki said, adding that they'll "continue to ... take steps forward."

Before February, these senior officials would have been responsible for flagging their own official records for preservation. And as an inspector general report released earlier this week made clear, that often was not happening.

The report said that in 2011, employees created just "61,156 record emails out of more than a billion emails sent." They created even fewer in 2013.

The report said some employees aren't preserving emails "because they do not want to make the email available in searches or fear that this availability would inhibit debate about pending decisions."

A central part of Clinton's argument in downplaying the impact of her personal email use has been that she sent most emails to government colleagues on their ".gov." accounts. The written statement put out by her office said "her work emails were immediately captured and preserved" this way. Further, Clinton stressed that she cooperated with the department last year in handing over about 55,000 pages of "work-related" email documents from her time as secretary -- her office claimed 90 percent of them already were in the system since they had been sent to ".gov" accounts.

But Psaki's latest comments would appear to undermine those claims.

Nate Jones, director of the FOIA project at the Washington-based National Security Archive, told Fox News he had doubts about Clinton's assertion from the start.

"The most important claim she made on Tuesday was that emails were captured and preserved in real time. Knowing how far government email systems lag behind those everyone else uses, it was extremely doubtful this was actually the case," he said. "The inspector general's report confirmed that just .00006 percent of State Department emails were saved, so it's very unlikely the people Secretary Clinton relied upon to save her records did.

"Today's disclosure by spokesperson Psaki confirms that the vast majority of her emails were not saved at all."

Clinton also revealed earlier this week that while more than 30,000 emails were provided to the department, nearly 32,000 were deemed by her as "private, personal" records that she did not keep. She also said her personal server would remain private.

Fox News' Joy Lin contributed to this report.