President Donald Trump's decision to grant Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov an Oval Office meeting is yet another example of his abdication of his responsibilities, several Democratic politicians have told The Independent.
Mr Lavrov arrived at the White House at about 2.15pm on Tuesday afternoon, entering the West Wing after telling reporters he was there to "say good afternoon to the president". The pair met behind closed doors and Mr Lavrov left after about an hour.
The meeting is his second Oval Office audience with Mr Trump. The first took place in 2017, only a few months after Mr Trump assumed office under the cloud of a federal investigation into whether members of his 2016 presidential campaign coordinated their actions with the effort mounted by Russia's intelligence services to boost his candidacy.
Speaking at the State Department earlier, Mr Lavrov condemned what he called "speculation about our alleged interference in domestic processes in the United States" as "baseless", adding that "no one has given us this proof because it simply does not exist".
But a series of investigations by US officials have all confirmed the existence of Russia's interference campaign, which former Special Counsel Robert Mueller said was conducted "in sweeping and systematic fashion".
In addition to the confirmation provided by Mr Mueller's investigation – which resulted in criminal indictments against 12 agents of one of Russia's intelligence agencies – separate investigations by the then-Republican-controlled House and Senate Intelligence Committees concluded that the interference took place, as well as one conducted by America's intelligence community.
Despite the wide agreement among US government officials Mr Trump has frequently denied that Russia interfered in the 2016 election on his behalf, and both he and his allies have sought to deflect blame by playing up the idea that Ukrainian officials interfered in that same election by publicly criticising Mr Trump's statements regarding Russia's invasion of the Crimean peninsula.
When the two men last met in the Oval Office in May 2017, Mr Trump reportedly disclosed classified intelligence which the US had received from Israel to Mr Lavrov and Sergei Kislyak, then Russia's ambassador to Washington, raising questions about whether the United States could be trusted by its intelligence partners.
He also bragged about how his decision to fire former FBI Director James Comey – who Mr Trump described as "a real nut job" – removed the "great pressure" he had faced because of the FBI's investigation into ties between Mr Trump's campaign and Russia.
One member of the House Intelligence Committee, Democrat Sean Patrick Maloney, told The Independent that Mr Trump's meeting with Mr Lavrov on the day that House Democrats unveiled articles of impeachment centred around Mr Trump's attempt to coerce Ukraine's president into announcing investigations that would benefit his reelection campaign was "another example of how the president doesn't take his oath seriously and has his priorities wrong".
"On the day we're fulfilling our oaths, he continues to flout his own," Mr Maloney said.
"His duty is to the American people and to the constitution, and I don't know what the hell that has to do with welcoming Russians into the Oval Office, or more importantly, echoing Vladimir Putin's propaganda about Ukraine".
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said Mr Trump's decision to meet with Mr Lavrov while Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has yet to be invited to Washington is yet another example of what House Speaker Nancy Pelosi described as "all roads lead[ing] to Putin" with Mr Trump.
"I think it's consistent with the president's performance from 2016, without exception to today, where his relationship with an entity and individuals that are clearly not our friends, and who have clearly acted to undermine our elections and undermine our interests in many parts of the world," he said.
And Denny Heck, a Democratic congressman from Washington, told The Independent that he believed that it was not a coincidence that the meeting between Mr Trump and Mr Lavrov was taking place at the same time that the president's personal attorney, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, had travelled to Ukraine in hope of uncovering damaging information about former Vice President Joe Biden, one of the candidates hoping to run against Mr Trump in the November 2020 general election.
"This happens at the same time Rudy is in Ukraine for a reason," said Mr Heck, who added that it was more proof that Mr Trump believes himself to be above the law.
"He's telling the American people 'I didn't do anything wrong and asking Russia to be involved in his campaign was nothing wrong', and Rudy being there, affecting the next election, is doing the exact same thing.
"I think he's spit in the eye in the notion that there should be separation of powers and that there shouldn't be foreign interference in American elections."
When asked to respond to Democrats' criticisms, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham told The Independent that it is Mr Trump's "obligation... to work with foreign governments on a myriad of issues".
She added: "I'm not sure how the Democrats can say he has his priorities wrong with a straight face -- when they have been doing nothing but impeachment for months now while President Trump continues to work every day, and get results for this country."