By Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The head of a congressional committee investigating possible contacts between Donald Trump's presidential campaign and Russia's government said on Monday the panel had not yet seen evidence of inappropriate communications with Moscow and insisted there was no need for a special prosecutor.
"What are we going to appoint a special prosecutor to do, exactly?" Devin Nunes, the Republican chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, asked at a news conference.
Nunes said U.S. intelligence officials had not yet presented the committee with any evidence of contacts between Trump campaign staff and Russian intelligence. However, the top Democrat on the committee said later on Monday that it was far too early to make such a determination.
"It's been looked into and there's no evidence of anything there," Nunes told a news conference, called days after a weekend report by the Washington Post that the Trump administration asked him and Senator Richard Burr, the chairman of that chamber's intelligence panel, to call journalists to knock down reports about possible collusion.
The story prompted questions about whether congressional committees led by Trump's fellow Republicans would conduct a serious investigation of the politically charged allegations.
Nunes said the White House had not asked him to knock down the reports, and said he did not think his communications with news organizations had been inappropriate.
Underscoring the partisan divide, Representative Adam Schiff, the intelligence committee's top Democrat, told his own news conference that it was far too early in the process to come to any conclusions.
"When you begin an investigation, you don't begin by stating what you believe to be the conclusion," he said.
Separately, Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader, said Nunes' remarks raised "serious questions about stonewalling."
White House press secretary Sean Spicer told a news briefing that administration officials did their job "very effectively" by ensuring reporters got the answers they needed.
Potential contact between Trump's campaign and Russia, and possible Russian attempts to influence the 2016 election on Trump's behalf, have prompted Democrats to demand a select committee or special prosecutor.
Most of Trump's fellow Republicans in Congress have resisted such suggestions, frustrating Democrats, who contrast their approach with their multiple investigations of 2015 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, including her use of a private email server.
Schiff said on Monday he was not confident that James Comey, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, would provide investigators with all the information they would need.
Comey, a Republican, drew furious criticism from Democrats for saying just before the election that he was looking at emails related to Clinton's use of a private server.
Nunes said he did not want U.S. citizens to be hauled before Congress because of news reports about their potential ties to Russia. "We can't have McCarthyism back in this place," he said, alluding to the notorious 1950s Senate hearings into Americans' potential ties to Communism.
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle, additional reporting by Doina Chiacu and David Alexander; editing by Jonathan Oatis)