SNOW MAKES HIS CASE….Tony Snow wrote an op-ed for USA Today presenting a defense for the president’s commutation of Scooter Libby’s prison sentence. He didn’t get a lot of space — 382 words isn’t much — but before a White House spokesperson publishes a piece like this in a national newspaper, it has to be vetted by the counsel’s office, the political affairs office, the communications office, and the press office.

In other words, Snow’s piece should be the best argument(s) the White House has to offer. And if that’s the case, the Bush gang really hasn’t been able to think of much. Let’s dig in, shall we?

Libby was convicted of obstruction of justice and perjury; was fined $250,000; must serve two years probation; and will likely lose his license to practice law. That qualifies as a stern penalty for a first-time offender with a long history of public service.

Libby may not have to pay the fine himself; Libby may not get two years probation; and according to federal sentencing guidelines, his penalty was anything but “stern.” For that matter Victor Rita is also a first-time offender with a long history of public service. How’d things work out for him?

The Constitution gives the president the power to grant clemency in a wide range of cases, at his discretion, with no restrictions. In the final hours of the Clinton administration, this unfettered authority was embodied in a mad rush to push through pardons with dizzying haste.

Tony Snow managed to wait until the second paragraph to say, “Clinton did it!” Let’s all applaud Snow’s impressive restraint. He only got six paragraphs to make his case, and he devoted one of them to a tangent.

[Bush] believes pardons and commutations should reflect a genuine determination to strengthen the rule of law and increase public faith in government.


[T]he president made clear that he would not second-guess the jury that found Libby guilty.

Actually, the president made clear he may ultimately overturn the jury’s decision with a possible pardon.

Many analysts cleverly avoid grappling with either of these issues, and instead try to analyze the commutation as a raw political exercise. That sort of analysis is off-base. The president was not motivated by politics in making this decision.

No, of course not. What ever could have given us that idea? The president who has issued fewer pardons and commutations than any modern president just happened to take an interest in this case. Just a coincidence. No politics here at all.

[Bush] did what he does normally, and what makes those of us who work for him proud.

Normally? The president routinely spends weeks and weeks mulling over commutation applications that haven’t even been filed?

If this op-ed is the best the White House has got, they’ve got nothing.

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.