Hillary Rodham Clinton used a private email account for her official government business when she was secretary of state and did not routinely preserve and turn over those emails for government records collection, the State Department said Monday.

Clinton has turned over 55,000 pages of emails to the department from her private account, a step that was first reported by The New York Times late Monday. The private account came to light when the department sought records from Clinton and other former secretaries as part of federal archiving guidelines.

Some 300 of Clinton's recovered emails were then turned over to a congressional committee investigating the 2012 deaths of four Americans at U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

A spokesman for Clinton did not immediately respond to a request for comment last night. The spokesman, Nick Merrill, told the Times that Clinton has complied with the "letter and the spirit" of federal rules on the retention of official documents.

It was not clear why the potential 2016 presidential candidate created the private account. But the practice appears to bolster criticism that she and her husband, former president Bill Clinton, have not been transparent.

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"Hillary Clinton should release her emails," said Kristy Campbell, a spokeswoman for Jeb Bush, who is weighing a presidential bid and created the website jebemails.com to provide public access to his electronic communications from his eight years as Florida governor.

Psaki played down the effect of Clinton's use of a private account, saying the agency long had access to her records "including emails . . . as well as cables."

Clinton never had an official "state.gov" email address, The Times reported. It is not clear whether she retained copies of all emails from her tenure. John Kerry is the first secretary of state to use a "state.gov" address.