Is DoJ suit against Gallup retaliation for bad Obama poll numbers?

So says the Daily Caller, which questions the timing of a lawsuit brought against Gallup by Eric Holder and the Department of Justice over claims of overbilling for services.  Matthew Boyle does his best to connect dots after the release of e-mails show Gallup’s response to a request from “the White House” to explain their methodology and David Axelrod’s attempt to publicly wheedle the venerable polling service into changing its modeling to improve Barack Obama’s standing:

Internal emails between senior officials at The Gallup Organization, obtained by The Daily Caller, show senior Obama campaign adviser David Axelrod attempting to subtly intimidate the respected polling firm when its numbers were unfavorable to the president.

After Gallup declined to change its polling methodology, Obama’s Department of Justice hit it with an unrelated lawsuit that appears damning on its face.

Appears is the operative word, but we’ll get back to that in a moment.  First, Boyle reports on internal e-mails at Gallup after Axelrod publicly questioned Gallup’s modeling of the 2012 electorate:

Internally, Gallup officials discussed via email how to respond Axelrod’s accusations. One suggested that it “seems like a pretty good time for a blog response,” and named a potential writer.

In response to that suggestion, another senior Gallup official wrote — in an email chain titled “Axelrod vs. Gallup” — that the White House “has asked” a senior Gallup staffer “to come over and explain our methodology too.”

That Gallup official, the email continued, “has a plan that includes blogging and telling WH [the White House] he would love to have them come over here etc. This could be a very good moment for us to [show] our super rigorous methods compared to weak samples etc. …”

The writer named several news organizations with their own polling methodologies, all of which resulted in numbers more favorable to President Obama at the time.

In response to that email, a third senior Gallup official said he thought Axelrod’s pressure “sounds a little like a Godfather situation.”

“Imagine Axel[rod] with Brando’s voice: ‘[Name redacted], I’d like you to come over and explain your methodology…You got a nice poll there….would be a shame if anything happened to it…’”

In a second email chain titled “slanderous link about Gallup methodology,” another senior Gallup official noted that a Washington Examiner story on Axelrod’s anti-Gallup tweet was “on [the] Drudge [Report] right now,” before writing that the episode was “[s]o politically motivated, it’s laughable.”

“As they say in b-ball: he’s trying to work the refs,” that official wrote to other senior Gallup staffers. “What a joke. Axel’s had a bad week. He got in the middle of the Ann Romney thing. Then said the country is going in the wrong direction. (Oops!) Now he’s swinging at us….”

This exchange took place in the spring of this year.  The problem with the “retaliation” theory is that the dispute between Gallup and the DoJ goes back to 2009.  Boyle reports that long after the jump.  In fact, the DoJ served subpoenas on Gallup in early 2010, although it took another 18 months to the fall of 2011 to get a meeting between Gallup and the DoJ.  The whistleblower filed the initial lawsuit, which the DoJ joined last month, four months after Axelrod’s public complaint about modeling in the electoral polls.

Could this be retaliation?  It’s possible, I suppose, but it’s not terribly rational, with no upside and lots of downside over a nearly-meaningless issue.  People complain about polling models all the time; heck, I do it nearly every week, including Gallup’s occasionally.  Polls arguably have some impact on elections, but Axelrod and Obama have far more influence on elections than Gallup or any other pollster, so intimidation and retaliation won’t do anything to improve their prospects that they couldn’t do for themselves.

And even if one thinks it might, why wait so long to retaliate?  The worst possible time for retaliation against a pollster is two months before an election, when their results get the maximum amount of attention.  It’s the investigation that intimidates, not the lawsuit, which is the other shoe dropping.  If one was inclined to think that Gallup might skew results to a favored outcome, wouldn’t it now be in their interest to work against Obama to change the AG and end the lawsuit?

Gabriel Malor is equally skeptical:

I wouldn’t go that far.  Boyle’s piece is more analysis than journalism, and the stories of Axelrod’s gripe and the DoJ lawsuit against Gallup are both interesting.  This just looks like an effort to connect dots that simply aren’t connectable.