Now it gets serious.

On Thursday afternoon, federal district court Judge Reggie Walton ruled that he will not put off sending Scooter Libby to jail. Last week, the judge sentenced Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff to 30 months and a $250,000 fine for obstructing justice during the CIA leak investigation. Libby’s lawyers asked for Libby to remain free on bail while they appeal the conviction. Walton said he would entertain the request, though he indicated he was not at all sympathetic to their legal arguments. He did not change his mind.

His ruling was a routine legal decision. Walton usually sends criminals convicted in his court (who are not flight risks) to prison once the Bureau of Prison notifies him it has selected a prison for the convict. That process tends to take 45 to 60 days. So unless Libby’s layers can persuade an appeals court to overturn Walton’s decision, Libby will soon be reporting to a federal penitentiary.

Which means neocon pardon-mania is about to hit.

The Libby Lobby has long called for George W. Bush to pardon Libby–even before his trial and conviction. And the neocons and conservatives have amped up their demand for a pardon in the days since Libby was sentenced.

On June 5, The National Review reiterated its call for a pardon:

[Libby] is a dedicated public servant caught in a crazy political fight that should have never happened, convicted of lying about a crime that the prosecutor can’t even prove was committed. President Bush has the power to end this ridiculous saga right now. He should do so.

Days later, William F. Buckley suggested this was an issue involving Bush’s manhood:

Mr. Bush will have to exhibit the courage for which he is loved and hated, by doing the right thing, and letting Mr. Libby get on with life.

Today, P.S. Ruckman, writing for The National Review, proposed that Bush issue a "respite" that would delay Libby’s jail term while Libby’s appeal continues.

The Wall Street Journal‘s editorial page, too, has been in the forefront of the free Scooter movement. Three days ago, it opined:

With Mr. Libby, what is Mr. Bush afraid of–jeopardizing his 33% approval rating? A pardon would be a two-day story. His opponents can’t hate Mr. Bush more than they already do, and his supporters would cheer to see the President standing by the man who stood by him when others in his Administration cut and ran.

Days earlier, The WSJers proclaimed:

Mr. President, this buck stops with you.

Among the rush-to-war crowd, there is outrage that Bush has not waved his magic wand for Libby. These conservatives believe that that Libby (and they) have been betrayed by the president. Rightwing columnist Bob Novak (who started the leak scandal when he outed covert CIA officer Valerie Plame in his column) recently channeled this rage in a column:

The treatment of Lewis Libby, once Vice President Cheney’s influential chief of staff, enrages Republicans far more than their public utterances suggest. The president’s studied distance from the CIA leak case led to the appointment of a special prosecutor by then-Deputy Attorney General James Comey at a time when Comey already knew the leaker’s identity. That distance has continued with Bush’s response from Europe to Libby’s conviction; it was filtered through a deputy press secretary, emphasizing that he had no intention of issuing a pardon.

One Republican who did not watch her words last week was Washington lawyer Victoria Toensing: "If the president can pardon 12 million illegal immigrants, he can pardon Scooter Libby." Toensing is joining the procession supporting the still-unannounced run for president by Fred Thompson, who is unequivocal in his outrage over Libby’s fate and asserts that he would pardon him.

You can feel the rage. And the neocons know how to gin up campaigns. They will do whatever it takes to pressure Bush. Expect them to go–to use a technical term–bananas. Especially since the White House still is indicating Bush is not eager to untie Libby from the train tracks. After Walton turned down Libby’s request to remain free, White House spokesperson Dana Perino said, "Scooter Libby still has the right to appeal, and therefore the president will continue not to intervene in the judicial process. The president feels terribly for Scooter, his wife, and their young children, and all that they’re going through."

There was wiggle room in the statement. Perhaps if Libby exhausts his appeals on the issue of staying out of prison while he appeals the conviction, Bush might then consider a pardon. But this was not the message the Libby Lobby wanted to hear.

These days Bush has lost the general public due to the Iraq war, He is in trouble with party’s base because of the immigration bill he’s been pushing. Now the elite guard of the GOP is in an uproar over his failure (so far) to pardon Libby. These guys and gals are going to endeavor to make this decision a painful one for Bush. They know how to play (read: manipulate) the media. And they have a mole in the White House: Dick Cheney. With Americans and Iraqi civilians being killed in Iraq every day, they will pour all their passion into the Save Scooter fight. After all, he is one of them. And though most neocons who misguided the United States into the failed war in Iraq have never served in the military, they do share a credo with one of the military services: leave no man behind. Scooter is their holy cause. The crusade has just begun.

*****

JUST OUT IN PAPERBACK: HUBRIS: THE INSIDE STORY OF SPIN, SCANDAL, AND THE SELLING OF THE IRAQ WAR by Michael Isikoff and David Corn. The paperback edition of this New York Times bestseller contains a new afterword on George W. Bush’s so-called surge in Iraq and the Scooter Libby trial. The Washington Post said of Hubris: "Indispensable….This [book] pulls together with unusually shocking clarity the multiple failures of process and statecraft." The New York Times called it, "The most comprehensive account of the White House’s political machinations…fascinating reading." Tom Brokaw praised it as "a bold and provocative book." Hendrik Hertzberg, senior editor of The New Yorker notes, "The selling of Bush’s Iraq debacle is one of the most important–and appalling–stories of the last half-century, and Michael Isikoff and David Corn have reported the hell out of it." For highlights from Hubris, click here.