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A woman passes a billboard showing a pictures of US president-elect Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Danilovgrad, Montenegro, November 16, 2016. REUTERS/Stevo Vasiljevic

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By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives committee investigating possible ties between Donald Trump's presidential campaign and the Russian government downplayed claims on Monday that the White House had tried to influence reporting on the matter 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.

Potential contact between Trump's campaign and Russia, and possible Russian attempts to influence the 2016 election, are politically charged issues that have left Democrats calling for a select committee or special prosecutor to carry out a full investigation.

Most of Trump's fellow Republicans in Congress have resisted such suggestions.

Nunes told the news conference the "only serious crime" was leaks of information from the Trump administration to the news media and others. He said he did not want a "witch hunt" calling U.S. citizens before congressional investigators because of news reports about their potential ties to Russia.

Nunes said the intelligence panel was working out the scope of the probe, which he characterized as an extension of a "long, ongoing investigation" of Russian activities that had been going on for months. However, he said U.S. intelligence officials had not yet presented the committee with any evidence of contacts between Trump campaign staff and Russian intelligence.

"It's been looked into and there's no evidence of anything there. Obviously, we would like to know if there is," Nunes said.

The Washington Post reported on Saturday that the Trump administration had enlisted key officials in the intelligence community and Congress, including Nunes, to call news organizations and challenge stories alleging contacts between members of Trump's campaign team and Russian intelligence.

Nunes said the White House had not asked him to knock down such reports. He described his contacts as an effort to work more closely with the press.

Nunes said he had been briefed on a transcript of a phone call that former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn had with a Russian envoy after the election. He said he did not hear anything worrisome about that call.

Trump asked Flynn to resign after revelations that he had discussed U.S. sanctions on Russia with the Russian ambassador to the United States and misled Vice President Mike Pence about the conversations.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; additional reporting by David Alexander; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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