NEW YORK - A jury on Tuesday acquitted Donald Trump of the 1996 advice columnist E. Jean Carroll was found liable for sexual assault, awarding her $5 million in a ruling that could help the former president campaign to regain the White House.

The verdict was split: Jurors rejected Carroll's claim that she was raped, finding Trump guilty of the lesser charge of sexual assault. But the ruling adds to Trump's legal woes and offers credence to Carroll, whose allegations Trump has mocked and dismissed for years.

He nodded, then hugged supporters and smiled through tears as the verdict was announced in a New York City federal courtroom just hours after deliberations began. Carroll could be heard laughing and crying as the courtroom cleared.

The judges also found Trump liable for defamation of Carroll after his allegations were made public. Trump chose not to attend the civil trial and was absent when the verdict was read.

Trump immediately expressed his anger with a statement on his social media site, again claiming he did not know Carroll and calling the verdict "a disgrace" and "a continuation of the greatest witch hunt of all time." He promised to appeal.

After the verdict was announced, Trump's lawyer Joseph Tacopina shook hands with Carroll and hugged his lawyer Roberta Kaplan. Outside court, he told reporters that the jury's decision to find Trump guilty of rape, but still find him guilty of sexual assault, was "puzzling" and "strange."

"Part of me is obviously very happy that Donald Trump has not been labeled a bully," he said. He defended Trump's absence from the trial, saying he would have "entered a circus atmosphere and it would be a circus to have him here."

Tacopina added: "What else can you say other than 'I didn't do it.' And he said it on the street."

In a written statement released after she left the courtroom smiling, but not speaking, Carroll said she sued Trump "to clear my name and get my life back. Today, the world finally knows the truth. This victory is not just for me, For every woman who has suffered because she was not believed.”

Kaplan said in a written statement that he hoped his client's case would prove that no one is above the law, "not even the president of the United States."