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Former President Bill Clinton is scheduled to speak Wednesday night at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. Since the affair that made him famous involved a cigar, how could I resist revisiting it here?
But first, a warning: What follows contains some sexually explicit language, but it’s all part of history and already archived for posterity on The Washington Post’s website.
Clinton served two terms in the Oval Office, but it was his extracurricular activities there — not his balanced budgets — that made him unforgettable. The U.S. House of Representatives ultimately impeached him, though the Senate refused to convict, for lying under oath about his sexual peccadilloes with Monica Lewinsky, then a White House intern.
On Sept. 11, 1998, independent counsel Ken Starr, formerly a federal appeals judge and U.S. solicitor general, issued a comprehensive report on this and other Clinton White House scandals. (Starr is now president of Baylor University.)
The Starr report was made available online almost immediately, and the naughty parts became instant water-cooler talk. What made nearly everyone grimace was the bit about the cigar.
Today, we know exactly what kind of cigar it was: a Gurkha Grand Reserve. More on that below.
Here’s how the Starr Report described a few of the president’s sexual encounters with the then-22-year-old Lewinsky.
Ms. Lewinsky did perform oral sex on him. Afterward, she and the President moved to the Oval Office and talked. According to Ms. Lewinsky: “[H]e was chewing on a cigar. And then he had the cigar in his hand and he was kind of looking at the cigar in … sort of a naughty way. And so … I looked at the cigar and I looked at him and I said, we can do that, too, some time.”
And later on:
According to Ms. Lewinsky, the president telephoned her at her desk and suggested that she come to the Oval Office on the pretext of delivering papers to him. She went to the Oval Office and was admitted by a plainclothes Secret Service agent. In her folder was a gift for the president, a Hugo Boss necktie.
In the hallway by the study, the president and Ms. Lewinsky kissed. On this occasion, according to Ms. Lewinsky, “he focused on me pretty exclusively,” kissing her bare breasts and fondling her genitals. At one point, the president inserted a cigar into Ms. Lewinsky’s vagina, then put the cigar in his mouth and said: “It tastes good.” After they were finished, Ms. Lewinsky left the Oval Office and walked through the Rose Garden.
Clinton, Starr and Linda Tripp — Lewinsky’s foil in the scandal — seem content to leave a historical footnote alone. I emailed them all, but no dice. Gurkha Cigars, however, was willing to discuss it.
In 2009, when the HBO movie “The Special Relationship” came out, Gurkha’s then-VP of sales and marketing Roy MacLaren beamed in a statement about the role his company’s cigar played in history.
“Gurkha Cigars was pleased to learn that during Clinton’s administration, President Clinton was a huge fan of the Gurkha Grand Reserve Cigar. … Several inside sources have finally confirmed that Gurkha Cigars was indeed the cigar that was used between Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton. It was in fact the Grand Reserve Gurkha Cigar, which has been reported to be one of Bill Clinton’s favorite stogies!”
(It was all for naught, though, as Lewinsky was cut from the movie.)
“To my knowledge Mr. Clinton was a big fan of the Gurkha Grand Reserve Churchill natural,” Gurkha marketing manager Oliver Hyams added in an email to me. He was kind enough to send two of these beauties for me to smoke, although he couldn’t be sure “if it was that particular cigar vitola.”
In addition to the Churchill vitola, the Grand Reserve comes in a robusto and a torpedo. All three are in the ring-gauge range of 50 to 53, and they range in length from 6 to 7.5 inches. The two smaller sizes also come in a dark maduro version.
So if Hyams’ info is right, Bill chose the 7-and-a-half-incher (He wishes!) but settled for medium girth — a 52 ring-gauge.
The first thing you should know about the Grand Reserve is that the tobacco is blended with Rémy Martin cognac. That’s one possible explanation — but not a plausible one — for Clinton saying, “It tastes good.” The company swears there’s no spraying or dipping involved in the brandy infusion, but they’re not saying how the flavor gets into the wrapper leaf.
Each of these cigars typically comes in its own glass tube, although some online retailers sell them without. The tubes are capped off with hardened gold wax that’s a dead ringer — color aside — for the top of a Maker’s Mark bottle.