Gov. Jay Inslee grew irritated Wednesday after questions about his response to allegations surrounding State Auditor Troy Kelley, suggesting one reporter "go out in the alleyway and decide who's weak."

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OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee grew testy Wednesday after reporters questioned his response to allegations surrounding embattled State Auditor Troy Kelley.

The usually jovial Democrat snapped at one reporter, suggesting they “go out in the alleyway” to settle the matter. No fisticuffs ensued.

The exchange occurred during Inslee’s weekly news conference, when he was pressed repeatedly by reporters on whether he’d had any new contact with Kelley and whether he was ready to join calls for the auditor to step down, as some Republicans have demanded. Kelley, a Democrat, has been under a cloud since news broke last month of a federal criminal investigation that has included a search of his Tacoma house. He has not been charged with a crime.

Inslee said he saw Kelley recently at a baseball game and “just said hello but I haven’t had any substantial discussions with him.” He said his office has continued to monitor the situation to ensure the auditor’s office continues to function.

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John Stang, a reporter with Crosscut, an online Seattle news site, followed up, asking why Inslee hadn’t demanded a sit-down meeting since the two elected officials’ offices are in adjacent buildings. “Isn’t that sort of weak?” Stang asked.

The question appeared to steam Inslee, who responded, “No, John, it isn’t weak, and you and I have to go out in the alleyway and decide who is weak on this. You’ve hit my hot button on that.”

Inslee then quickly offered an extended defense of his “appropriate response” to the probe of Kelley, a separately elected statewide official.

“I think the governor’s office does have the ability to demand some answers. We’ve asked pointed questions. We got responses to them,” Inslee said, referring to a  set of written questions he recently sent Kelley. He said his office remains in touch with Kelley’s staff to ensure the auditor’s office is functioning.

“I think that that is the proper thing to do in this regard. We’ve thought about this. This is a legitimate question to ask. I don’t think the governor’s office can act as a prosecuting attorney,” Inslee said. “We have a United States Attorney, we have an Internal Revenue Service. We’re advised that those multiple federal officers are conducting an investigation and from my discussion with Mr. Kelley that I had when he called me two or three weeks ago, it was kind of clear that investigation would not permit him to answer a lot of questions about that investigation. So I’m not sure any tea would be productive.”

After the news conference, Inslee walked over and shook Stang’s hand.