SCOOTER’S PARDON, PART II….I don’t disagree with Kevin at all; Bush’s decision to ignore the rule of law, disregard the criminal justice system, and overlook his own commutation guidelines shouldn’t surprise anyone. The president has shown nothing but contempt for principles of justice up until now; why should today be any different?

In conservative circles, there’s a standard approach to law and order: we need tougher sentences, inflexible mandatory-minimums, and harsh punishment for those found to have broken U.S. law. But if you help expose the identity of a covert CIA agent during a war, lie about it, and are convicted by a jury on multiple felony counts, those standards no longer apply. Perhaps we should call this what it is: “amnesty.”

I suspect a standard conservative defense will be, “But it’s not amnesty; Libby is being punished. He has to pay a fine.” First, when it came to immigration policy, asking lawbreakers to pay a fine was still called “amnesty” and it was considered unacceptable. Second, Libby’s fine will be paid for by his well-connected, wealthy Republican friends who generously contributed to his legal defense fund. His “punishment” is non-existent.

As for the commutation itself, expectations aside, today’s decision doesn’t even make any logical sense. If the White House wanted to argue that Libby’s prosecution never should have happened in the first place, the Bush gang could at least try to make the case. But that’s not what’s happened here — as Josh Marshall explained, the president has instead decided to “micromanage the sentence.”

[The president decided] that the conviction is appropriate, that probation is appropriate, that a substantial fine is appropriate — just no prison sentence.

This is being treated in the press as splitting the difference, an elegant compromise. But it is the least justifiable approach. The president has decided that the sentencing guidelines and the opinion of judge don’t cut it.

The only basis for this decision is that Libby is the vice president’s friend, the vice president rules the president and this was the minimum necessary to keep the man silent.

Way back in September 2003, as the investigation was getting under way, Bush announced, “If there’s a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is…. If the person has violated law, that person will be taken care of.”

As Swopa noted, “We now know exactly what he meant.”

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.