Pardon me, but did Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) actually think that Chris Matthews’s question about a pardon for I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby at the AFSCME conference on Tuesday was the last one she would get? You get the feeling that L’Affaire Plame, four years old this July, is one of those sagas that simply cannot die.

President Bush has made clear to me that he doesn’t want to pardon Libby, or he would have done so right away. No, I am not channeling the president but I reach this conclusion for four reasons: Bush has shown during the immigration debate he is certainly not worried about keeping the conservative GOP base happy; a pardon is an acknowledgment of guilt and inserts Bush into a mess he had no part of; Libby is not a Bush aide but a Cheney aide and Bush has clearly distanced himself from Cheney and his associates at this point in his presidency; and Bush needs another political problem like he needs Cheney to shoot him in the face.

Libby defenders are working hard, and so far they have convinced many in the ’08 presidential contest to back them. They have taken to the media and the Washington social circuit, hoping to influence the political arm of the White House without a direct appeal to Karl Rove or Bush. They have found some unlikely allies. This week Richard Cohen joined the crowd in his Washington Post column, writing: “The underlying crime is absent, the sentence is excessive and the investigation should not have been conducted in the first place. This is a mess.” Cohen argues Libby should “maybe” be pardoned and his sentence “definitely” commuted.

So close to the impeachment of Hillary Clinton’s husband, our last president who lied under oath, it is hard to imagine the Republican Party — the “rule of law” party — wanting to forgive such an act. Pat Buchanan and Republican James Gilmore, former governor of Virginia and a GOP presidential contender, have opposed a pardon for this reason.

Bush could ultimately pardon Libby, but if he does I suspect it won’t be for a long time. This story is here to stay.