The State Department on Wednesday brushed aside the idea that Hillary Clinton gave preferential access to Clinton Foundation donors while she was secretary of state, and said it's "normal" for State to meet with people outside government.

"State Department officials are in [touch] with a range of outside experts: individuals, organizations, nonprofits, foundations, academics," said spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau.

"This is normal," she added. "This is part of how the State Department gathers information, and informs our thoughts, pro and con, on any particular issue."

On Tuesday, the AP reported that at least 85 of the 154 non-government people that Clinton met with while she led the department had also donated to the Clinton Foundation. That set of fierce criticism from Republicans that Clinton set up a "pay-to-play" system in the government aimed at rewarding donors to her family's foundation with access to the State Department.

Still, Trudeau dismissed these criticisms.

"I would dispute the idea of preferential treatment," she said.

She also said officials aren't aware of any policy that occurred under Clinton that was influenced by donations to the Clinton Foundation.

"The department's actions under Secretary Clinton were taken to advance administration policy, as set by the president and in the interests of American foreign policy," she said. "The State Department is not aware of any policy decisions influenced by donations to the Clinton Foundation."

Republicans have argued for months that the State Department's initial claims of what it believes to be true are often undercut by evidence that shows up later. The department failed to find about 45,000 of Clinton's emails that were later discovered only through lawsuits and Freedom of Information Act requests.

Clinton herself said this year that she never sent or received classified emails on her personal email server, only to have the FBI say that scores of emails contained classified information.