(CNN)David Axelrod, former senior adviser to President Barack Obama, strongly criticized President Donald Trump for suggesting without evidence that former national security adviser Susan Rice may have committed a crime by trying to unmask the names of Trump's associates who were mentioned in intercepted communications during the Obama administration.
Axelrod: Trump's Susan Rice allegation 'beneath the dignity of that office'
Speaking to The New York Times on Wednesday, Trump said, "I think it's going to be the biggest story."
Trump, asked by the Times if he believed Rice committed a crime, responded, "Do I think? Yes, I think."
During an interview with Erin Burnett on CNN's "Outfront," Axelrod said the comments were "appalling, but at this point, probably not surprising."
"To slime someone that way, to accuse someone of a crime without any evidence is beneath the dignity of that office, the office in which he was sitting," he said. "Even if it's not beneath the dignity of the man who currently holds it."
He added, "If the President has something to say or evidence to present, present it to the American people, but don't throw out charges like this and slime people as you sit in the Oval Office and then not back it up."
Axelrod said he was also appalled because Trump's comments came one day before Trump meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping, a meeting Axelrod said "is probably the most important meeting" Trump has had so far in his presidency.
"Instead of prepping for that meeting and strategizing for that meeting, he's calling reporters in to level gratuitous, outrageous charges," he said. "And in that office was the vice president and five top aides of the President. Don't they have other things to do?"
Axelrod said he believes Trump's meeting on Thursday with China's President could also be the reason that chief strategist Steve Bannon was removed from the National Security Council. He called Bannon "the leading anti-China voice in the White House" and said he believes that made the Chinese "uneasy."
Because of that, Axelrod said, "I think the national security adviser probably advised the President that things would go better if Mr. Bannon returns to a more appropriate role."