• My colleague Amanda Erickson explored the symbolism of an ISIS attack on Khomeini’s tomb, a huge space the size of Heathrow Airport’s Terminal 4:
“The expansive complex is a spiritual and political testament to the 1979 Islamic revolution. And an assault on the shrine — akin to a bombing at America’s Tomb of the Unknowns — is an attack on the country’s political identity and on one of Iran’s most important monuments to Shiite Islam. As Marc Martinez, a senior analyst and Iran expert at the Delma Institute in the United Arab Emirates, explained to my colleague, today’s attack is an assault on the Islamic revolution itself. As a result, he said, the choice of target may bolster the country’s strong sense of nationalism.”
• Britons vote in a parliamentary election today that has become a far closer contest than many expected. Prime Minister Theresa May called the snap election in April, secure at the time in the conviction that her ruling Conservatives could capitalize on the frailties of a floundering Labour Party led by the leftist Jeremy Corbyn. But Labour has become competitive again, and for reasons we explore later in the newsletter, May’s gamble looks to have failed no matter who wins the vote.
For more analysis, see an excellent explainer written by my colleague Adam Taylor, who delves into potential outcomes, including a hung parliament, examines the country’s curious — and, of late, faulty — pollsters, and looks at how the specter of Brexit and recent terrorist attacks impacted the vote.
• The crisis over Qatar continued to escalate, with the Turkish parliament passing a bill that expedited troop deployments to the Arab state — which hosts a Turkish military base — as well as pledged crucial water and food supplies. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is something of an ideological fellow-traveler with the Qataris and a supporter of populist Islamist political parties, such as Egypt’s now outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.
Turkey’s move shows how the dispute risks both widening and lasting longer than Saudi and Emirati officials may have imagined. But diplomacy is ongoing: Qatar’s emir held mediation meetings with his Kuwaiti counterpart, who flew into Doha, and also had a brief phone call with Trump.
Meanwhile, my colleague Max Bearak used charts to illustrate how the current sanctions on Qatar have wreaked havoc on its flagship airline, the global giant Qatar Airways, which is being prevented from flying in Saudi or Emirati airspace.
• A Burmese military plane carrying more than 100 passengers and crew disappeared on Wednesday after taking off from the coastal town of Myeik en route to Rangoon, the country’s largest city. At the time of writing, authorities were still searching for the jet with six navy ships and three military planes.
• North Korea issued a statement slamming the Trump administration for quitting the Paris agreement on climate. “This is the height of egotism and moral vacuum seeking only their own well-being at the cost of the entire planet,” the statement from Pyongyang’s foreign ministry said. Such conspicuous lectures are not unusual for the pariah state, which once described Hillary Clinton as a “pensioner going shopping.” But it serves to highlight the extent to which this White House has placed itself on the margins of the international community by turning its back on Paris — even North Korea can scold you.
Best laid plans
Britain’s seven-week election campaign began in April with forecasts of a landslide victory for the Conservatives and a Margaret Thatcher-esque grip on power as far as the political eye could see for Prime Minister Theresa May.
It ended Wednesday in a way that no one could have predicted — with a rattled May being heckled during one of her few and characteristically awkward attempts to meet voters, while her once-hapless opponent, Jeremy Corbyn, spoke to large and adoring crowds earned him comparisons to Winston Churchill.
In between, the campaign was interrupted by two mass-casualty terrorist attacks, and May’s seemingly insurmountable lead dwindled, in at least some polls, to a few points.
“Up until the campaign, events had played to her strengths,” said Rosa Prince, author of a biography of May. “But she does have her frailties. And campaigning seems to have brought a lot of those out.”
On Wednesday, May was heckled by butchers during a brief visit to London’s Smithfield Market before retreating to the safer confines of a lawn-bowling club in the countryside. There she sipped tea with elderly Tory voters and told reporters, somewhat implausibly, that she had “enjoyed the campaign.”
Corbyn, by contrast, has campaigned as though he has nothing to lose — which, in a way, is true. His opinion ratings were abysmal going into the election, with not even a majority of Labour’s supporters saying they would prefer him over May as prime minister.
But Corbyn — for decades known to voters primarily for his vaguely Marxist views and scruffy beige suits — has aggressively taken his underdog case to the public. In a country where campaigning is traditionally low-key and door-to-door, the Labour leader has turned heads with large rallies packed with enthusiastic supporters who cheer his call for a “fairer Britain.”
As the nation prepares to vote on Thursday, few believe Corbyn could actually win. If he did, it would rival — and perhaps top — Brexit or President Trump’s November victory for most implausible political outcome of the past 12 months.
But even a win for May, if it’s insufficiently convincing, could leave her seriously damaged within her own party and hobbled going into all-important negotiations with European leaders that will determine whether Brexit is the success she has promised — or a grievous mistake.
“She’ll still win the election, but she’ll be weaker for it,” said Steven Fielding, a political-science professor at the University of Nottingham. “Jeremy Corbyn will lose the election, but he’ll be stronger for it.” — Griff Witte
The big news
Washington was already salivating over today’s appearance by James Comey, the fired FBI director, before the Senate Intelligence Committee. But the anticipation truly went through the roof when an advance copy of Comey’s written testimony appeared online on Wednesday afternoon (the version we’ve linked to has excellent annotations from The Post’s political team). The remarks detail Comey’s one-on-one conversations with Trump and his unease with the president’s requests, confirming much of the reporting that has roiled the White House in recent weeks. They also confirmed Trump’s insistence that Comey had told him he wasn’t personally under investigation (though that may have changed since Comey was dismissed). Here are some of the most important — and most bizarre — moments from Comey’s testimony.
During a Jan. 27 one-on-one dinner with Trump, Comey said that he planned to serve the rest of his 10-year term as director, but said he could not be politically “reliable” in the way the president might hope: “A few moments later, the President said, ‘I need loyalty, I expect loyalty.’ I didn’t move, speak, or change my facial expression in any way during the awkward silence that followed. We simply looked at each other in silence. The conversation then moved on, but he returned to the subject near the end of our dinner.”
The next month, Trump spoke to Comey alone in the Oval Office about his recently fired national security adviser: “The President then returned to the topic of Mike Flynn, saying, ‘He is a good guy and has been through a lot.’ He repeated that Flynn hadn’t done anything wrong on his calls with the Russians, but had misled the Vice President. He then said, ‘I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.’ I replied only that ‘he is a good guy.'” (Comey clarified that he thought Trump was talking only about ending an investigation into Flynn’s comments to Vice President Pence, but said he was still unnerved.)
Comey then asked Attorney General Jeff Session to have the president stop the private talks: “Shortly afterwards, I spoke with Attorney General Sessions in person to pass along the President’s concerns about leaks. I took the opportunity to implore the Attorney General to prevent any future direct communication between the President and me. I told the AG that what had just happened … was inappropriate and should never happen. He did not reply.”
On March 30, Trump called Comey to push for a public statement that Trump wasn’t under investigation: “On the morning of March 30, the President called me at the FBI. He described the Russia investigation as ‘a cloud’ that was impairing his ability to act on behalf of the country. He said he had nothing to do with Russia, had not been involved with hookers in Russia, and had always assumed he was being recorded when in Russia. He asked what we could do to ‘lift the cloud.'”
Trump tried one more time during a call on April 11: “I replied that I had passed his request to the Acting Deputy Attorney General, but I had not heard back. He replied that ‘the cloud” was getting in the way of his ability to do his job.”
Comey then suggested Trump stop contacting him directly on the matter, and Trump agree. “‘Because I have been very loyal to you, very loyal; we had that thing you know.’ I did not reply or ask him what he meant by ‘that thing.’ I said only that the way to handle it was to have the White House Counsel call the Acting Deputy Attorney General. He said that was what he would do and the call ended.
That was the last time I spoke with President Trump.”
To be continued later today…